10:50am PT by Eriq Gardner
Hulk Hogan Blames Gawker for N-Word Leak, Calls for Investigation
In a dispute that is arguably going badly for both sides, Hulk Hogan is now demanding an investigation into whether Gawker purposefully leaked a racist N-word-filled tirade made by the former professional wrestler. In new court documents today, Hogan is even bringing up the possibility of jail time.
Hogan is presently pursuing $100 million privacy claims against Gawker for publishing excerpts of a sex tape. A trial originally scheduled for earlier this month was delayed, which Gawker believed would give them more time to pursue documents from the FBI's investigation of the sex tape. Soon thereafter, Gawker founder Nick Denton wrote an update on the case: "There will be a third act which we believe will center on the real story: the additional recordings held by the FBI, the information in them that is Hulk Hogan’s real secret, and irregularities in the recordings which indicate some sort of cover-up."
After Hogan's lawyers expressed concern, looking to tighten confidentiality, The National Enquirer and RadarOnline somehow got their hands on a transcript of additional sex tape footage, showing the wrestler making racist comments about his daughter Brooke's boyfriend, whom he believed to be black. Hogan was then fired from the WWE.
As Hogan was facing wrath for what he once said, Gawker was facing a gigantic backlash over a since-pulled story about a Conde Nast executive who allegedly was involved with a male escort.
Now Hogan is connecting the dots and seeing motive for release of sealed discovery documents.
"Gawker was facing a catastrophic 'meltdown,' huge public backlash, and losing advertisers because of its sordid post allegedly 'outing' a corporate executive," states the plaintiff's court papers. "This public relations nightmare, the fallout from which essentially cemented Mr. Bollea's claims against Gawker Defendants, was publicly unfolding at the very same time that Mr. Bollea was pushing to re-set the trial of his claims much sooner than Gawker Defendants expected. Having already publicly admitted that a victory for Mr. Bollea would destroy Gawker and its way of doing business, Gawker Defendants had very few options remaining to save their way of life."
Hogan's lawyers don't like the way that Denton's team has conducted a PR campaign outside of court. They believe that Gawker has been attempting to reframe the sex tape case as one testing the First Amendment despite Hogan's victory beating Gawker's arguments in the summary judgment phase.
The Hogan camp is using its new motion to permit discovery to rebut the First Amendment arguments and doing it in a way that connects Gawker's recent controversial story.
When Denton took down the story about a Conde Nast executive, he announced that Gawker was embracing a new standard for stories going forward. "It is not enough for them simply to be true," he wrote. "They have to reveal something meaningful. They have to be true and interesting."
Hogan's lawyers call this new standard "misguided" and further state, "The law is not how Denton describes it... To the contrary — and rather ironically given Denton's recent efforts to self-anoint himself as 'this generation's Larry Flynt' — the Eleventh Circuit laid out a much different 'newsworthiness' standard in a ruling against Larry Flynt himself when Hustler published unauthorized nude photographs of a public figure."
The topic at hand, though, is how the "N-word" stories came to be, and so Hogan wants to inspect computers, smart phones and other tech equipment from Gawker. He further wants to depose Gawker employees about communications with The National Enquirer and RadarOnline. And if there is any revelation of discovery violations, Hogan wants criminal and civil sanctions.
According to Hogan's emergency motion, "Such penalties should include, without limitation as is appropriate, incarceration, the striking of Gawker Defendants‘ pleadings, the entry of a judgment as to liability against Gawker Defendants, a civil fine for contempt to include restitution for all damages caused to Mr. Bollea, an award of attorneys‘ fees and costs, and such other and further relief as the Court deems just and appropriate."
Heather Dietrick, president and general counsel of Gawker, responds, "Hulk Hogan has only one person to blame for what he said and no one from Gawker had any role in leaking that information."
The matter will be addressed in a St. Petersburg court on Thursday morning.